We’ve watched all things personal undergo very public makeovers on reality TV--our noses, our houses, our cars and jobs and spouses. But something more fundamental may have quietly fallen victim to a makeover as well: our moral identities.
Moral identity is how you view and describe yourself in ethical terms--honest, caring, opposed to cheating, committed to doing the right thing, etc. But two business researchers say people with a strong sense of moral awareness can actually become the biggest failures in the face of moral challenges.
In a study reported by LiveScience.com and originally published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the researchers asked a group of people if they considered themselves moral, and if they would cheat on a test.
The people who said they would never cheat described themselves as very moral--no surprise. But the people who said they would indeed cheat also described themselves as very moral. Huh?
The study deduced that when a person with a strong moral identity is faced with a moral decision, they choose their fate--for good or bad--and then pursue it until the extreme end, driven by their extreme moral identity.
In other words, they justify cheating as a means to a moral end, as in this example given by one of the researchers: "If I cheat, then I’ll get into get into graduate school. And if I get into graduate school, then I can become a doctor. And think about all the people I’m going to help when I’m a doctor."
Is doing the wrong thing--but claiming it’s for the right reasons--ever really right?